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Posted on Wed, Dec 19, 2012 : 12:06 p.m.

Younger teens smoking less; older teens drinking more, U-M report shows

By Amy Biolchini

Editor's note: This story has been edited with the correct spelling of Bruce Thomson's name.

Though eighth grade students appear to be making greater strides in smoking less than their older counterparts, an annual study has revealed that amongst high school seniors, binge drinking and misuse of Adderall is becoming more prevalent.

Overall, the number of U.S. teenagers smoking is continuing to drop and the number of teens using marijuana has not increased for the first time in four years, according to an annual Monitoring the Future report released Wednesday morning.

The report is the result of a national study of 45,000 to 50,000 students in eighth, tenth and twelfth grades that is designed and conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan.

About 24 percent of the high school seniors surveyed reported binge drinking within the past two weeks in 2012 - an increase of two percent from 2011. For the purpose of the study, binge drinking was defined as having more than five drinks in a row.


The percentage of U.S. teens that smoke has continued to decline in 2012, according to an annual report released Wednesday.

AP File photo

High school seniors are also misusing Adderall more than students in eighth and tenth grades, where misuse rates decreased this year, according to the study.

Bruce Thomson is a psychotherapist with private practice in Ann Arbor who does interventions and recovery coaching for drug addicts. Additionally, he lectures in Michigan high school on addiction, for the University of Michigan and the National Association of Social Workers.

Adderall is “prevalent” amongst high school students, Thomson said, and many use it to concentrate to study for tests. Misuse increases in college students, Thomson said.

Often, many teens don’t consider Adderall to be an illicit drug, Thomson said.

“If you need (Adderall), then it is absolutely a wonderful thing: It can help you study, help you focus. It really can be life altering in a very good way,” he said. “The downside is, if you don’t need it, then you’re just taking Speed - a stimulant. There’s a deeper level question of what is the psychology of taking a drug you don’t really need.”

Side affects could contribute to high blood pressure and heart complications - including heart attacks at the extreme end, Thomson said. Mixing Adderall with other medications could have other negative affects and reinforces the need for the drug to be administered under the supervision and guidance of a doctor.

In 2010, the Monitoring the Future report indicated that the continuous decline in teen smoking rates year after year might have stabilized. Throughout 2011 and 2012, teen smoking rates have continued to drop, which the study links to an increase to the federal tax on tobacco products that took effect in 2009.

The biggest difference in smoking habits appears amongst eighth grade students, as the study found a drop amongst students that have reported using cigarettes in the past 30 days from 6.1 percent to 4.9 percent between 2011 and 2012. For students in tenth and twelfth grades, that figure has dropped a percentage point to 10.8 percent and 17.1 percent, respectively.

In 1996 when teen smoking rates were at their peak, 49 percent of eighth grade students had tried cigarettes. In 2012, that proportion is 16 percent, according to the study.


Lloyd Johnston

Courtesy U-M

"While the improvement in the smoking numbers for just this one year is important, the longer term declines have been really striking," said Lloyd Johnston, principle investigator for the study, in a news release. "Since teen smoking reached a peak around 1996-1997, the rates of current (past 30-day) smoking have fallen by about three fourths among 8th graders, two thirds among 10th graders, and half among 12th graders."

Smoking has become more prevalent in high schools than in middle schools because of the increased reinforcement amongst younger students between the ages of 12 and 13 years old about the negative affects of smoking, Thomson said.

When it comes to older teens, they’re drawn to smoking because of the rebellious association of doing something “bad,” Thomson said.

“It’s not based on logic at that point; it’s based on the draw of the ‘bad’ activity,” Thomson said. “The primary driver for use of something like (cigarettes) is social inclusion.”

Teenagers’ disapproval of smoking is at an all-time high for all three grades surveyed: 89 percent of eighth graders disapproved of smoking, while 84 percent of twelfth graders did not approve of the habit.

The use of hookah water pipes to smoke flavored tobacco and small cigar use have remained constant amongst twelfth grade students surveyed from 2010 to 2012 at 18 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

For the past four years, marijuana use - and especially daily marijuana use - had been rising amongst teens. In 2012, researchers saw use rates stabilize for the first time.

"Whether this is more than a pause in the ongoing increase that we have seen in teen marijuana use in recent years is unclear at this point," Johnston said. "One important variable that has been a lead indicator of use - namely the amount of risk teenagers perceived to be associated with marijuana us - continued its sharp decline in 2012 among teens, which would suggest further increases in use in the future."

The prevalence of marijuana use in 2012 was highest amongst older teens:

  • Eighth grade: 11 percent
  • Tenth grade: 28 percent
  • Twelfth grade: 36 percent

Lecturing around the state in various high schools on drug addiction, Thomson said every class he speaks to says the drug of choice is marijuana.

One in 15 high school seniors is a daily or near-daily marijuana user, according to the report.

However, Thomson said he believes alcohol use amongst teens outweighs marijuana use, but teens choose not to identify it as a “drug.”

“Alcohol is taken so casually,” Thomson said. “It doesn’t get the attention that marijuana does with paraphernalia and laws and possession charges.”

Compared to alcohol, marijuana is expensive. Additionally, the marijuana in circulation now is eight to 10 times more potent than the marijuana that was popular in the 1960s, Thomson said.

“It’s a far more potent chemical,” Thomson said of the marijuana in circulation now. “We’re seeing more impact from those that are steady or serious smokers … We see withdrawal from heavy users.”

Eighth grade students saw the biggest decline in marijuana usage rates from 13.7 percent in 2010 to 11.4 percent in 2012.

About half of America's high school seniors have tried an illicit drug - typically marijuana - by the time they graduate and four fifths of them have used it in within the past year, according to the study.

The study also reported that use of Ecstasy, salvia and heroin without a needle amongst teens have significantly declined between 2011 and 2012.

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.



Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 5:06 p.m.

The Psychology of Substance Use : Apart from the numbers, there is nothing to learn from this long story. To suggest that kids may try substances for social inclusion or to express a rebellious nature would not explain the whole story.


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 4:24 p.m.

Thanks to Bruce Thompson and others like him for educating our kids, and helping those recover from drug addiction. People handle drugs differently. Some can drink responsibly, others become alcoholics. Some people can walk away from weed, I've seen others who can barely function through the day without it. I've actually heard of a person who quit using heroin without any issues, and have seen others who appear to have what seem like will be lifelong health issues from its use. Why take the risk? IF you don't need to use these drugs, why potentially set yourself up for lifelong health issues and dependency? Especially for anybody with a rebellious streak, who in my perspective crave independence....why create a dependency on drugs? a dependency on the health care system? a dependency on finding funds to finance these things? The more rebellious and independent you want to be, the more reason to avoid the use of alcohol and other substances.


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 8:34 a.m.

I noticed a dramatic increase in drinking in college among the freshmen. Our campus was pretty liberal and looked the other way when 18 year olds were drinking provided that it didn't get out of hand. But the last two years in college I kept hearing about so-and-so had to be taken to hospital for alcohol poisoning. Come Monday morning all the recycle bins would be full of empty bottles, cans, and large liquor bottles. Hey, at least they recycled, right? I don't think 21 is a reasonable age to be able to legally drink. You can enlist at 18 and die for our country but not get a beer? On a high school school trip to Italy we had some kids that partied WAY too hard and had to get taken to the hospital because the kid was so drunk he stuck his head through a window. I had a sip of beer when I was a kid and EWWWW. I still can't understand how drinking so much that it makes you sick is cool or fun. Doing that ONCE should get you to stop. So I guess what I'm trying to say is that alcohol, and the affects of it, should be taught/shown earlier in the hopes that things like walking though a window and alcohol poisoning won't happen.


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 5:40 a.m.

I can't believe people still smoke. What am I missing?


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 3:46 a.m.

What percent of those Marijuana smokers had withdrawal though?


Wed, Dec 19, 2012 : 11:26 p.m.

'Adderall is "prevalent" amongst high school students, Thompson said, and many use it to concentrate to study for tests. Misuse increases in college students.' Well, if not the parents, at least someone is on top of all this. Quick Watson, call Lansing. I think we have discovered a new solution for the AAPS achievement gap.

Tom Todd

Wed, Dec 19, 2012 : 10:52 p.m.

The Economy has something to do with this.

Nicholas Urfe

Wed, Dec 19, 2012 : 9:25 p.m.

But what about those bath salts that make you an insane cannibal?


Wed, Dec 19, 2012 : 6:30 p.m.

If you teach your children that alcohol can be enjoyed responsibly (even before they turn 21), then they won't find it to be such a big deal. Then again, maybe you have a rebellious child and it just sucks to be you.


Wed, Dec 19, 2012 : 5:15 p.m.

I love that "beer makes everyone happy" is the headline of an article on the front page 3 slots below this one.